After managing just 14 yards rushing against Missouri Western in week two, the Fort Hays State offense went to work examining every aspect of its running game.
Since then, running backs Charles Tigner and D.J. Hickman and the FHSU offensive line have found a way to get the Tigers' rushing attack reestablished.
FHSU (4-2) is averaging 176 yards on the ground in their last four games, pounding out 183 yards in last week’s 19-3 win against Emporia State. The Tigers will look to continue the trend when they take on No. 19 Pittsburg State at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium.
“The backs are starting to see things a little bit better — still missing a few holes here and there,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said. “Even getting (tight end Matt Wendelberger) back was huge for us. His physical nature while he plays really amps up the offensive line and that run blocking.
“I think they’re just getting comfortable with one another. They’re starting to feel when to come off the double team and how to get to the next level. That just takes time. Coach (Jeff Bryant) has done a good job of preparing them each week for the looks they’re going to get, and those guys are believing in it and then practicing hard each week.”
Tigner, who rushed for 111 yards on 22 carries last week, was quick to credit the offensive line. The Tigers start Pat Kelly at left tackle, Amari Angram-Boldin at left guard, Nathan Hale at center, Kendrick Davis at right guard and Ted Hessing at right tackle.
“I can’t say nothing but good things about my O-line,” Tigner said. “They’re awesome. I know for sure they’re going to get their blocks every play. I trust them. Those guys are like the meat and potatoes of the team.”
Tigers receiver Manny Ramsey said the Tigers' ability to run the ball helps open up big plays in the pass game.
“Our running backs have been doing good, and that also starts with the line,” Ramsey said. “They’ve been improving every week. That opens up the pass game so the defense doesn’t really know if we’re going to run or pass. That’s helped us a lot.”
Tigner and Hickman have been forming an effective 1-2 punch in the Tigers' backfield. A week after running for 121 yards against UCO, Hickman added 63 yards rushing against ESU and also caught a 23-yard touchdown pass.
“We call each other the dynamic duo,” Tigner said. “If I’m tired or anything and I need to get out, I can count on him every time.”
“The blocking has really done big things for him up front,” Brown said of Hickman. “He’s actually getting the ball and going straight downhill instead of making a cut in the backfield. I think that’s his biggest improvement so far — he’s actually making the cut at the line of scrimmage instead of the backfield. That’s why he’s been so successful these last few weeks."
Brown said there's still room for improvement in the running game for the Tigers, who rank 10th in the MIAA in rushing, averaging 142.7 yards per game.
“We’ve still got a few things to work with our backs on — just seeing things, trusting things a little bit more," Brown said. "There’s a few times they’d probably go 60, 70 yards if they’d just trust the blocks instead of cutting back."